Through 2 games of the 2016-17 season the Red Wings don’t look all that great. There’ve been some bright spots; Thomas Vanek looks like an animal, Petr Mrazek has kept the team in both games (albeit with a few hiccups against the Bolts), Frans Nielsen seems to be playing well and Andreas Athanasiou got some time on the first line in game two. But for the most part, the Wings are about the same team they were last year minus Pavel Datsyuk. And you know what? That’s okay. The bottom of the NHL standings isn’t the place to be, but it’s only been two games. It’s far too early to hit the panic button, not only for us as fans and commentators, but also the coaching staff as well. The most important thing going forward is whether or not Jeff Blashill will stick to his guns, even if it means missing the playoffs, or whether he’s going to go back to last year’s game plan and sit the youth in favor of low-event veterans. Spoiler alert: It’s essential that he keeps pressing forward with the youth.
Last night’s game against the Panthers was ugly. The Wings seemed unable to clear the puck out of the defensive zone, unable to carry it through the neutral zone with any kind of authority and thus were stifled offensively all night. Passes missed their targets, the Panthers forecheck gave our defense all sorts of trouble and the only reason it was a 1-goal game going into the third period was because of Mrazek. But even though the Wings were beaten thoroughly by a better team, the player usage by the end of the night wasn’t all that bad. Athanasiou finished with 15 minutes of TOI, Larkin had 19. Miller and Glendening only saw 12 and 14 minutes of ice, respectively. Green was out there for 26 minutes. Tatar and Nyquist had 15 each. Justin Abdelkader didn’t skate in the top-6. In a game where the Panthers walked all over us, Jeff Blashill got the usage pretty close to right. Even in the first game against Tampa things weren’t so bad. Sure, Steve Ott was in the game over Athanasiou but the “OMG Line” was only given 10 or 11 minutes of icetime. He needs to stick to this process, even if the results aren’t there at first.
The best thing for this team moving forward is to give the “skill” players and youth as much time possible. Even though Blashill did a pretty good job of that in the first two games and is walking away without a win, it’s imperative that he keeps this up. Larkin, Tatar, Nyquist, Sheahan, DeKeyser, Mrazek, Athanasiou, and so on all need to see what it’s like to play without a safety net. You can’t shelter these guys any more behind Datsyuk and Zetterberg up front and Kronwall on the back-end; the Wings need to let the next core learn by doing. Through two games, they’ve gotten shelled. That’s good. I’d rather have Larkin and Tatar get caved in each night and potentially learn something from it than sacrifice Miller and Ott to the other team’s best just so our future can continue to be sheltered. They need to be given these responsibilities sooner or later, it’ll be best to do so now.
At my college orientation, the day before I started my freshman year, I remember the Vice President of Student Affairs gave all of us new freshman a speech about what going to a university was like. He came out and after introducing himself, told all 2500 of us that he hoped we would fail early and often in our college careers. What a way to greet your incoming class huh? But he explained that success is not a single event, it’s a process. And to know success, you’ve first got to know failure. Success and failure are not just individual events but instead equal parts of a binary system. You experience failure, lose, break down, etc. so that you can ultimately learn from that and succeed. Long story short; he was right and I think this applies to any area of life.
Bringing it back into hockey terms, why’s Steve Yzerman known as “The Captain”? Sure, he was captain of the team for 19 seasons, but what separates him from other long-serving captains? What separates him from Nicklas Lidstrom, who you could argue was a bigger piece to the Stanley Cup puzzle? It’s because Yzerman was captain of a basement-dwelling Red Wings team. He led the team not into immediate success, but into failure. The team failed under his watch for years, so much that there are even archived web forums from the early 90s where Red Wings fans themselves fantasize about trading Yzerman. After naming Yzerman captain, the Wings lost in the conference finals three times and the Stanley Cup finals once before finally winning the Cup in 1996-97. Yzerman didn’t just inherit a stacked team and guide them to victory. He inherited a perennial loser and guided them to years of heartbreak before ultimately finishing what he started, two-thirds of the way through his career. That’s why he’s The Captain.
And so what should Jeff Blashill do in the present day? He should do what he’s been doing because it’s what is best for the organization this year and in the seasons to come. At some point, this organization is going to be forced to experience failure again. And that’s not a bad thing because failure is the first step to success. Failure makes achieving your goals that much sweeter. This next generation of Red Wings needs to experience what they did in those first two games. They need to see how glaring their weaknesses are, they need to feel what it’s like to lose. It’s not going to kill their confidence or ruin them as a player. The Red Wings are all fierce competitors, loyal teammates and strong individuals, even the young guys like Larkin and Athanasiou. They won’t see losing as a reason to give up, they’ll see it as an opportunity to succeed and grow.
The same goes for Jeff Blashill too. What was said about him when we first promoted him to the NHL club? “He’s had success at every level”. In his first season as a head coach in the USHL, the Indiana Ice won the championship. In his first year as head coach at Western Michigan, they had their best season in 15 years. In his first year as head coach of the Griffins, they won the Calder Cup. Blashill’s used to success, to acknowledge the Wings’ shortcomings and stay the course, even if it means he will fail to keep The Streak alive, would earn a tremendous amount of respect from me and I think most Wings fans. This organization needs failure more than it needs success.
So do you agree? Is the best thing for this team to press on through this process, even if it means they won’t win many games or make the playoffs in the short-term? Would going back with the veterans even yield better results, or are the kids the only chance this team has of even making the postseason? Let us know in the comments below.